Grants fund specialty crop research
USDA provides cash for safety research, fruit promotions
By DAN WHEAT
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Studying potential differences in sanitation of wood and plastic tree fruit bins is one of 25 research projects newly funded with $3.3 million in USDA Specialty Crop Block Grants for Washington state.
The Center for Produce Safety at the University of California-Davis will receive $173,313 to assess the risks of microbial contamination and how those risks and efforts to control them differ between wood and plastic bins. The goal is food safety.
Bins will be assessed for microbial levels of fecal contamination before and after sanitation practices. Hard-to-clean surfaces and damaged surfaces of bins will be examined. The effect of bin age on sanitation will also be considered.
Another grant of $61,000 goes to the Washington Apple Commission to create and distribute iPhone and Android applications to assist consumers in identifying varieties, usage and recipes by scanning the barcode or entering the PLU number of the apple. The goal is to help consumers identify varieties that look alike and encourage them to try new ones.
The 25 projects also include studies of:
* Early warning tools for potato psyllid.
* Identification of phytophthora root rot resistant true firs.
* Impacts of plow-down and cover crops on tulip production.
* Economic impacts of grapevine leafroll disease.
* Evaluation of irrigation practices.
The grants for Washington state also will go for pear promotions; enhancing trade of dry peas, lentils and chickpeas; direct marketing training for Latino farmers; beginning farmer marketing and community-supported agriculture training; farm-to-market education for farmers in north-central Washington; and reducing market barriers for Washington and Oregon floricultural products sold to Puget Sound area mass merchandisers.
In awarding the funds, the state Department of Agriculture selected projects that build on expertise and success of industries, make meaningful contributions to the viability of fruit, vegetable and horticulture production and potentially help the largest number of producers.
The $3.3 million for Washington state is part of $101 million in 2012 Specialty Crop Research Initiative grants announced by the USDA on Oct. 1. Of the total, $55 million goes to states as block grants and $46 million goes to 14 research initiative projects.
Four of the 14 projects relate to tree fruit and grapes:
* Purdue University, $3 million, to automate dormant pruning of grapes and apples using sensors, computers and robotic manipulators.
* Michigan State University, $1.7 million, to develop integrated crop pollination management approaches to diversify pollination sources and maintain consistent yields.
* Pennsylvania State University, $1.4 million, to produce biopesticides for commercial use to offset loss of registered chemicals and resistance.
* USDA Agricultural Research Service at Davis, Calif., $1.8 million, to develop wood-canker disease management strategies to improve productivity and longevity of almond, grape and pistachio crops.
Washington state Department of Agriculture: www.agr.wa.gov